Philipp Sueltrop

'I like the challenge and unknown parts of the job...'

  • Philipp Sueltrop

PhD in Electrical and Electronic Engineering

Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Kea Aerospace


What led to you to co-found Kea Aerospace?

I love both engineering and exploration. Working in the aerospace field is a perfect combination of both, where you have to push the boundaries of what is known and currently possible.

What’s the best part about your work as a CTO?

I like the challenge and unknown parts of the job. We are doing something fairly new. No one has been commercially operating solar-powered stratospheric aircraft so far. Otherwise, I love the diversity of the job, from design work on a computer to manufacturing in a lab and flight testing outside.

Why did you decide to continue studies in New Zealand from Germany?

UC was also the only place in the world where I could work on rocket control systems in a non-military context. I also got a UC Doctoral Scholarship. I had to apply twice, which is a good lesson in not to give up if you get rejected the first time.

So how was studying your PhD at UC?

My PhD studies were really useful as my German degrees were a bit too theoretical – I had to work a lot besides my studies to gain the hands-on experience that is required in engineering. Most of my work-related experiences came from my work at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and in my rocketry club in Germany. 

Studying at UC was far more practical than in Germany. I was working with UC Aerospace – a great team of postgraduates. 

Did you also get involved on campus?

I loved being part of the Canterbury University Tramping Club (CUTC) and was its club captain in 2016. It is a great club to meet likeminded people and to get out and see amazing places, for example in the Southern Alps. I am a keen trail runner and do the occasional orienteering/rogaining adventure or ultra races. I also love self-organised fast packing or running trips in the mountains.

I also enjoyed the UC Climbing Club with its mini bouldering gym and the great club trips.

Now that you’ve graduated and are working full-time with Kea, what is your next big project? 

We are developing a new unmanned high-altitude fixed-wing aircraft that will fly in the stratosphere at around 20km altitude, which, being fully solar powered, will operate for days or weeks per flight. With a wingspan of over 30m, it will likely be the largest unmanned aircraft designed in the Southern Hemisphere.

Right now, my job involves a bit of everything from the aircraft design and manufacturing to flight testing and regulatory work. Additionally there is of course more work on the business side of things.

How has UC supported your team?

We are getting amazing support from the Centre of Entrepreneurship (UCE) and their ThincLab advisory team. I would highly recommend UCE’s Summer Startup programme for students. I have not done it myself since I heard about it too late, but I wish I had. Especially for engineers this can be a great experience.

Any other advice for future aerospace engineers at UC?

Don’t just do your normal courses. You have to get your hands dirty. Find additional projects, and work with good teams.

James O'Neill

James O'Neill

'I get to work on a huge array of projects all over the world...'

Tonny Christanto Gosaria

Tonny Christanto Gosaria

'UC is definitely one of the best choices...'